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The Church of Scientology:
A History of a New Religion
Hugh B. Urban

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2012

Paperback | 2013 | $26.95 | £21.95 | ISBN: 9780691158051
280 pp. | 6 x 9 | 14 halftones.
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Scientology is one of the wealthiest and most powerful new religions to emerge in the past century. To its detractors, L. Ron Hubbard's space-age mysticism is a moneymaking scam and sinister brainwashing cult. But to its adherents, it is humanity's brightest hope. Few religious movements have been subject to public scrutiny like Scientology, yet much of what is written about the church is sensationalist and inaccurate. Here for the first time is the story of Scientology's protracted and turbulent journey to recognition as a religion in the postwar American landscape.

Hugh Urban tells the real story of Scientology from its cold war-era beginnings in the 1950s to its prominence today as the religion of Hollywood's celebrity elite. Urban paints a vivid portrait of Hubbard, the enigmatic founder who once commanded his own private fleet and an intelligence apparatus rivaling that of the U.S. government. One FBI agent described him as "a mental case," but to his followers he is the man who "solved the riddle of the human mind." Urban details Scientology's decades-long war with the IRS, which ended with the church winning tax-exempt status as a religion; the rancorous cult wars of the 1970s and 1980s; as well as the latest challenges confronting Scientology, from attacks by the Internet group Anonymous to the church's efforts to suppress the online dissemination of its esoteric teachings.

The Church of Scientology demonstrates how Scientology has reflected the broader anxieties and obsessions of postwar America, and raises profound questions about how religion is defined and who gets to define it.


"In The Church of Scientology, one of only a handful of academic treatments of the subject, Hugh Urban is less interested in the experiences of Scientologists than in the legal processes and semantic twists through which a set of beliefs becomes a religion. A professor of religious studies at Ohio State, Urban is interested in secrecy in religion, and in this book he chronicles the way Hubbard reacted to legal and political challenges to his authority by attempting (largely successfully) to conceal his theories from the public."--Rachel Aviv, London Review of Books

"[A] slim, thoughtful investigation of Scientology as a uniquely American religious phenomenon, one whose history has a great deal to teach us. . . . He is more interested in how the church has reflected and influenced currents in American history. . . . Most fascinating is Urban's argument that Scientology has been instrumental in shaping how the US government defines religion."--Mark Oppenheimer, The Nation

"The most scholarly treatment of the organization to date."--Michael Shermer, Scientific American

"The Church of Scientology is a fascinating book. . . . [A] deep and often brilliant anthropological dissection. . . . Where more populist authors might find it difficult, for instance, to take seriously a religion that makes its most devoted followers sign a 'billion-year contract', Urban is po-faced throughout. As a result, he is granted exceptional access to Scientologists and their detractors, and builds from the often barmy material a compelling picture of the birth of a new religion. For this is the book's central thesis: that by analysing how new religions emerge and flourish, we may better understand those whose origins are lost in the haze of time. . . . Urban's portrayal of the birth and boom of Scientology is absorbing and impressive."--Alex Preston, The Guardian

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations vii
Acknowledgments ix
Introduction: The World’s Most Controversial New Religion and Why No One Writes About It 1
Chapter One: L. Ron Hubbard: American Entrepreneur, Spiritual Bricoleur 26
Chapter To: Scientology, Inc.: Becoming a "Religion" in the 1950s 57
Chapter Tree: Cold War Religion: Scientology, Secrecy, and Security n the 1950s and 60s 89
Chapter Four: Thee "Cult of All Cults"? Scientology and the Cult Wars of the 1970s and 80s 118
Chapter Five: "The War" and the Triumph of Scientology: Becoming a Tax-Exempt Religion in the 1990s 155
Chapter Six: Secrets, Security, and Cyberspace: Scientology’s New Wars of Information on the Internet 178
Conclusion: New Religions, Freedom, and Privacy in the Post-9/11 World 201
Appendix: A Timeline of Major Events in Scientology’s Complex Journey to Becoming a "Religion" 217
Notes 221
Selected Bibliography 257
Index 265

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